Christmas 2023 Newsletter

Christmas 2023 Newsletter

Christmas, 2023

Beloved in Christ,
The Lord bless you!

We contemplate the birth in the flesh of Jesus, the Son of God, from the ever-virgin Mary, conceived of the Holy Spirit, and taking on our humanity. The Son of God is eternally being begotten of God the Father, as the Holy Spirit is eternally proceeding from the Father. On this day we celebrate that God the Father has begotten His Son in human form, as a manifestation of His love for us. The Son is the Creator, with the Father and the Spirit. All things came forth from Him, and in Him all things consist. He recapitulates the whole creation in Himself, uniting it in Himself as His Body, and in Him we are united to the Father by the Holy Spirit.

The eternal, infinite God has taken flesh and become man. He was born of the Virgin, and lives as a man, identical to us in all things. He emptied Himself, and took the form of a servant, a slave, that He might liken us to Himself, and invest us with His glory. In the words of St Athanasios, He became man that man might become God. He was born in our humanity so that we might be reborn in His divinity by Grace.

When we are baptized, when we are chrismated, the Lord, the Son of God, is born in us, and we in Him. He calls us to Himself. We die to the old man and are resurrected in Baptism. He anoints us with the Holy Spirit, and our noetic eyes are opened. He feeds us with Himself, and we are made radiant with His grace. The Seed of the Word is implanted in our souls, so that we might cultivate that ground, that the Word might grow and bear fruit.

How do we cultivate that ground so that the seed might prosper? We keep the soil watered and pull up the weeds that grow and threaten our crop. We water it with the words of the Word, and nurture it with the Body and Blood of the Lord. We make sure the sun shines on the place the seed was planted, and the radiant silence of contemplation feeds the seed and helps it grow. We cultivate the ground with our ascetic deeds and fertilize it with works of charity.

As we contemplate the Mystery of the Incarnation, God having become like us that we might become like Him, let us give thanks and glorify God, the eternal Father and His only begotten Son made flesh, and His Holy Spirit, the Trinity which is the ground of our being and the context of our salvation.

We contemplate the infinite humility and self-emptying of God, who not only took on our flesh but came as the lowliest of all, that He might exalt us to His glory enthroned with the Father. What an awesome mystery: that we not only behold His glory, but that the Father glorifies us with and in Him, as partakers of His nature by grace. He raises us up to Himself and makes us sharers in His Sonship by the grace of the Spirit, that we might live in Him for all eternity.

St Demetrios Monastery Update

We are preparing for the great Feast of the Nativity and Theophany, Christ’s Birth from the Ever-Virgin Mary and His Baptism, the revelation of His Divinity. This originally was a single Feast, and the Western practice of the Nativity was instituted in Constantinople under St John Chrysostom. These two great Feasts of His Appearing remain linked, as it is as 12 day Feast, with a fast-free period from Christmas to Theophany. We invite you to come and visit us during this period, come to the festal services, and share in the joy of the season.

The Monastery is doing well. Our basic goal is to live as Orthodox Christians, according to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel.
There is some coming and going, as a couple of novices have decided not to pursue the monastic life; but there are some coming into the brotherhood as well. We pray they will do well, and hope that the lessons they have learned in experiencing the initial stages of monastic life will benefit them in the future. These include the basic disciplines of living in community, trying to love and be patient with one another, forgiving one another and learning to take others into account. Not to mention, deepening their Orthodox Faith.

Our culture develops not just individualism, but a kind of toxic individualism that is all about selfishness, self-gratification and self-will. Monastic discipline is about cutting off selfishness, in order to focus on the love of the other, to put the other first, and to serve one another. These are essential Gospel principles. Many young men who come to the monastery have a great need for structure and discipline, as well as a community that embraces them, so they can heal. There are so many young people at this time who come from profoundly dysfunctional families, who need a context and time to heal from the wounds of the past, and the behaviors and attitudes by which they have tried to cope.

Monastic life is a kind of a family. The Church blesses two ways of life: marriage and the natural family; and monasticism and the spiritual family. The way of the world, toxic individualism, has broken the synergy of the natural family. The shattered family is one of the greatest dangers to our culture. It hits all generations, and affects every member of a broken family. It is a betrayal of love. In monastic formation, we try to bring healing to a few people, and give them a vision of what it means to live in a community as a family, with self-sacrificing love for the others. They in turn will either become monks, or husbands and fathers. Hopefully develop the maturity and stability that is the result of spiritual discipline. The families will then be healthy, and the Church will be more healthy and stable.

After 30 years in monastic life, one way or another, I have come to see the novitiate as a kind of formation program, where young men can come, offer their labor and strong backs, and deal with themselves. Most, even the most idealistic, do not know themselves well enough to make the choice of monastic life. Most of them are new converts, full of ideas and concepts, as well as worldly habits and attitudes. They enter into the community, contribute what they can, and come to see themselves more clearly, so they can make the decision to either get married or to commit themselves to monasticism. Seen as a formation program, either decision benefits the Church. We certainly need monks, but we also need men who can be good and faithful husbands and fathers, committed to the God and the Church, their wives and families. While it is sad for us to see some brothers move on, it is also a joy to see them build a family and nurture it in the Orthodox Faith.

We encourage young men in their 20’s to come and spend a year or two in the monastery, so that they can become firm in the faith, experience discipline and obedience, and begin their healing and growth to spiritual maturity. Older men also come to the monastery, usually with a whole host of other issues. Some come who have simply waited to make a commitment. Others have been married, had careers, and had lots of pain and sorrow, and want to make a new start. Older guys bring lots of skills and experience, and their stability brings balance to the community. The difference is that the formation experience is more difficult the older you get, because by 30 your personality is crystalized.

Spiritual formation, whether it leads to monastic tonsure, or to being a solid husband and father and member of a parish, is designed to lead to spiritual maturity. It sets the foundation, which each person must build on, over the course of decades. Spiritual growth consists in taking responsibility for one’s life and decisions, for other people and their lives, and in attaining personal, emotional and spiritual stability. It means to get over one’s ego, and live for others, to live for God. To lay the foundations, one has to dig out the resentments, selfishness, self-will and egotism, repent of them, renounce them and detach from them. It means to forgive everyone who has hurt or offended you. It means to commit oneself entirely to God, to surrender to Him, to be able to say to Him, “Thy will be done.” It also means to recognize your sinful passions, and to bring them under control. This is, of course, the task of a lifetime. But it is just as important for those in the world with natural families, as it is for those in monasteries.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are key elements. Those who come into the monastery need to deal with all the resentments from their pasts, especially family issues. You cannot have an authentic Christian spiritual life if you retain resentments, anger and hatred towards anyone. You must also learn to forgive yourself. Self-pity and self-hatred also have to be exorcised. To do this, you have to confront the situations, even if they are long in the past, and do the work of forgiveness. You know you have forgiven when a person or remembrance of wrongs comes up, and there is no emotional charge—no anger, no ill will or ill feelings. This is the way to inner peace.